Book review: Feminists Don’t Wear Pink… and other lies

Illustration by Megan Storey

Illustration by Megan Storey


The real beauty in this book is that it’s relatable. From actress Evanna Lynch’s fear of bleeding on a casting director’s sofa, to Liv Little’s vulva-paranoia and Jodie Whittaker’s ‘An interview with my mum’, I often found myself nodding along in deep affinity.

I learned a new word last week: acedia - a state of listlessness, of not caring or not being concerned with one's place in the world. A state similar to, but not quite depression, someone suffering acedia might feel restless, vaguely uneasy or overwhelmed by monotony; in medieval times, this was mostly expressed by bored monks stuck in a kind of spiritual apathy.

Now, I don’t know any monks, but acedia seems pretty common. Do you ever have those days where you just feel pathetic and depleted? Utterly demotivated? Totally, unmistakably ‘blah’? Call me dramatic, but I think this is acedia. In these pressured, insurmountable times, I’m willing to bet we’ve all been there. But what shifts it? How do you lift the fog? For me, reading the words of other feminists is a major win and almost always guaranteed to stir up something in the pit of my stomach (now do you see where I’m going with this?).

And so, I came to read Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, Scarlett Curtis’ brilliant, intersectional collection of feminist essays. Ash is all about presenting first-person accounts of the lives of women we admire, so of course the concept sits well with me, and although I don’t particularly wear pink and I’m not necessarily the target audience, I can see that there’s something here for everyone. As the foreword so accurately says: ‘Just as every girl around the world has her own unique story to tell, she also has her own particular version of what feminism means to her’. Split into five sections reflecting different pathways into the ideology, Epiphany, Anger, Joy, Action and Education (with a poetry break mid-way through), the book covers a lot of ground in a digestible manner.

The book came out back in October to wide acclaim and with a touch of controversy - Topshop cancelled a pop-up in their flagship Oxford Street store hours before it was due to open – so this review is hardly hot off the press. I took my time over it, dipping into it when I most needed a shot of optimism or affirmation, gobbling up a page here and a chapter there on grey Sunday mornings, through busy commutes and other ‘in between’ moments. If, like most of us, you’re short of time and patience, you’ll find this an easy format.

The real beauty in this book is that it’s relatable. From actress Evanna Lynch’s fear of bleeding on a casting director’s sofa, to Liv Little’s vulva-paranoia and Jodie Whittaker’s ‘An interview with my mum’, I often found myself nodding along in deep affinity, however, and perhaps it’s my age (I’m 33), the chapters that ‘got to me’ most were about motherhood.

I’ve always longed for a daughter, but thanks to Jameela Jamil’s essay ‘Tell Him’, I now feel it’s nothing short of my life’s mission to raise a feminist son. I’m not joking! “Tell him what happened to us. Tell him our whole story. Tell him how only recently we were able to fight, protest, beg and starve our way to basic human rights,” she says. “Your relationship with him will shape his entire outlook on women. So that in every girl he looks at he will see you, and be full of love and respect.” I dare you not to blub… I’m tearful as I write this, because it’s true and so important.

Similarly, ‘The Weaker Sex’ by Keira Knightley is an incredible piece of prose, addressed ‘To my girl’. At times almost spat through gritted teeth, her words are raw and full of burning love. There’s no holding back as she describes childbirth in all its guts and glory: “I remember the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving. And I am the weaker sex? You are?” It’s the type of writing I adore, and now I see Keira Knightley in a whole new, wonderful light.

Of course, periods, vaginas, childbirth and biology aren’t the sole defining factors of womanhood. Tasha Bishop’s ‘If in your mind you are born a girl’ delves into what it means to be a woman in terms of gender and societal norms. “No matter who you are, if in your mind you are born a girl, you will grow to be a woman through experience,” she writes, arguing that womanhood is a beautiful, troublesome battle towards a chosen self through self-love and empowerment, a truth that is perfectly demonstrated in Charlie Craggs’ heart-wrenching chapter ‘A brief history of my womanhood’. 

Buy this book for yourself, buy it for a friend, buy it for your niece. Packed full of truths and inspirations, it’s the perfect antidote to acedia or apathy, an ideal January read… as Beanie Feldstein would say, take what you need and “stuff your pockets”. Scar Curtis says she made the book for her fifteen-year-old self, but I think I’ll read it for years to come, as part of an ever deepening, ever evolving understanding of my feminism. Now how about yours?

Words by Charlotte Ruth @charberto
Art by Megan Storey